Volunteers share joy of bicycles

Teamwork brings mountain biking to St. Joseph’s Home for Children

The simple ritual of learning to ride a bike is a luxury for youth who spend time at Catholic Charities St. Joseph’s Home for Children, the south Minneapolis facility which serves children and their families together by addressing immediate needs for shelter and stability while offering long-term solutions to emotional and behavioral challenges.

Children often enter St. Joe’s because of trauma experienced in their home. The safe environment provided there is key to helping children overcome barriers.

That luxury of learning to bike was recently made possible thanks to good-hearted teamwork from donor Sharon Schroeer who provided the funds for the bikes and David Bole from The Bicycle Chain in Roseville who sold us provided the bikes at a significant discount. The effort was the brainchild of Mark Hartney, who said biking has made a positive impact on his life many times over.

“I was kind of a hellion when I was a kid and I stayed in places like this, it’s my turn to give back,” he said.

Mark began that giving back when he first volunteered at St. Joe’s in more than 15 years ago. As a founding member of the Minnesota High School Cycling League, he is now working to combine his passions.

“I have a strong belief in cycling’s ability to change lives,” he said.

Mark has a distant dream for some of the St. Joe’s kids to eventually become members of the League. That dream just might come to fruition, if the first few practices are any indication. They fall, but they get back up again. Some are just learning to ride, but they come back with an eager spirit.

As senior program director, Jon Stumbras sees the positive changes the bikes are making for the youth at St. Joe’s and in his own life.

“Some kids who are struggling in parts of their lives really shine on a bike,” he said. “You can see their confidence level and the pride they have showing their skill to others. You can see they are just plain having fun!”

Jon commutes to work each day on his own bicycle, now biking has become a regular part of his work day in another way.

“I get asked five times a day ‘when can I go biking again?’,” he said.

Jon said he remembers the look of fear on a teenager who was afraid to ride down a hill before challenging herself. Being in the biking group gave her a chance to expand her own notion of what she thought she was capable of.

It’s those kind of moments Sharon wanted when she made the donation.

Physical activity and commitment are two of the things Sharon was hoping for when she provided the funds, a gift made in memory of her mother. She wanted the gift to be used for an activity that could be sustained and would be fun for the children.

“Biking is a life-long activity that teaches children rules need to be followed,” she said. “With the help of a mentor...it is another opportunity to build relationships with individuals and groups and encourage children to respect other bikers, pedestrians and drivers as they share the road.”

When we all come together, great things happen!